After pole position and a DNF in 2011, a fourth place in 2012, a double DNF in 2013 and a very close second place in 2014, Marc VDS Racing finally achieved its long-held ambition of winning the Spa 24 Hours, coming home over a lap ahead of the second-place WRT Audi.
It was the #46 BMW Z4 GT3 crew of Markus Palttala, Lucas Luhr and Nick Catsburg that finally broke the team’s duck, after power steering failure and a seized engine put paid to the efforts of the #45 trio of Augusto Farfus, Dirk Werner and Maxime Martin.
Both cars got the short end of the stick amidst a flurry of early safety cars that prevented the race settling down into a rhythmn before nightfall, but both kept plugging away and were soon a fixture in the top four or five cars.
Marc VDS won and Audi had taken pole, but in between there was a moment of glory for McLaren, whose #58 and #59 650S GT3s sat 1-2 after the start. It wasn’t to be for the men from Woking, however. The #58 was first hit by a backmarker on Saturday with Shane van Gisbergen at the wheel, then it pulled to halt on Sunday lunchtime while Rob Bell was driving. A mistimed switch to slicks in changeable conditions sent the #59 down the order, and any chance of recovery was affected by overnight contact.
The works Bentleys also had a promising start that went progressively downhill: the #7 going out due to an impact for Andy Meyrick in the xxth hour and the #8 retiring some time later with mechanical trouble. The privateer #84 HTP Bentley salvaged some honour for the Crewe marque, pushing on and benefitting from a few retirements ahead to wind up ninth.
The 2014 winning crew of Rene Rast, Markus Winkelhock and Laurens Vanthoor benefitted from the early safety cars and led a good chunk of the race, but a moment of impatience from Vanthoor in traffic led to damage and a long pit stop. A determined recovery drive overnight and through Sunday saw the car back in the top 10, before it was brought down again by gearbox trouble not long before the flag.
Audi’s sister marque Lamborghini had a race to forget, with the #19 and #63 Huracans showing flashes of pace before being despatched by accident damage and mechanical issues respectively. Also going home disappointed were Paul Ricard winners Nissan – although the #23 crew did at least manage to salvage some points to add to their season-long total. The Pro-Am entry suffered a long delay for a new gearbox and the MRS car had to retire early due to accident damage.
VW Group’s best finish instead came courtesy of the pole-sitting #2 WRT Audi R8 of Stephane Ortelli, Frank Stippler and DTM young gun Nico Muller, which pushed hard but ultimately didn’t have the pace to answer Marc VDS’ challenge.
There was also a strong early run for the previous-generation R8 of the French Sainteloc team, which climbed as high as second but retired due to a fire caused by mechanical problems. The two new-shape cars entered by Phoenix found themselves on the back foot for almost the whole race, with various penalties and spins frustrating the drivers’ efforts at almost every turn.
Nonetheless, a heartbreaking last-hour retirement for Stef Dusseldorp, Nico Bastian and Daniel Juncadella’s ROWE Racing Mercedes (which had led the race for a time) with an alternator fault leading to a failed water pump meant the #5 Phoenix Audi crew of Nicki Thiim, Christopher Mies and Christian Mamerow would clinch the final overall podium spot.
An impressive fourth overall and first in Pro-Am was the #47 AF Corse Ferrari of Lathouras, Lemeret, Bruni and Pier Guidi, ahead of the penalty-hit #6 Phoenix Audi, which was crewed by Audi Le Mans stalwarts Lotterer, Fassler and Rockenfeller.
Second in Pro-Am, but possibly even happier than the winners, were Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, joined for this race by Francesco Guedes and Griffin’s fellow Ferrari works driver Davide Rigon. The duo’s haul of points mean they have won the Blancpain Endurance Pro-Am drivers’ championship with a round to spare.
The Pro-Am podium was completed by the Barwell Motorsport-run Ecurie Ecosse BMW (which finished second in class here last year) of McCaig, Bryant, Sims and Modell, with the other Barwell car (Team Russia) just missing out on silverware by finishing fourth.
Behind them, rounding out the top 10, were the aforementioned #84 HTP Bentley and the #32 Leonard Motorsport Aston Martin.
There was a dream result for Team Parker Racing and their #24 Audi in the Amateur Cup.
A trouble-free run as others struggled with the conditions set up a fine multi lap edge for Julian Westwood, Callum McLeod, Ian Loggie and 24 hour debutant Benny Simonsen, a best ever international result for the experienced British team.
The #56 Attempto Racing Porsche came home second after a similarly trouble-free run with the #111 Kessel Ferrari completing the podium, Liam Talbot joined by Marc Rostan, Stephen Earle and Marco Zanuttini.